Ryan Sternlicht
Mar 18 · 8 min read
Noisebridge VR area

VR is quite the hot topic these past few years. Everyone wants to try it, no one want to pay the extreme prices for it. To combat this, many places opened up public VR arcades, or installed a VR setup at there store (Microsoft, GameStop). This did great in Asia, but almost all the places in the US have either closed (IMAX VR) or are single city (VR playground (Rochester)), or are in a store or general arcade).

Unlike almost all of those places, the setup at Noisebridge Hackerspace that I take care of is free, public, and has no time limit for any of our games. This has meant that our Vive (we also have Windows Mixed Reality headsets (ACER developer version), Oculus DK1 and just got a new Oculus Rift donated) gets anywhere from 2 to 18 hours of use per day.

This article is to explain how Noisebridge runs this crazy setup, and what problems have happened, and what solutions we came up with to solve those problems.


The Headsets

VR Device problems

To help keep things organized, I have split the problems into sections

Controllers, Sensors, Cords, Link Box, Headstrap, Face foam, Audio

Controllers

Vive- After a few hundred hours of use we were no longer able to click right on the directional touchpad, it was always depressed. Taking the controllers apart and putting them back together after a clean helped for a few hundred more hours. This problem severely affects gameplay of some games.

Rift- The rear triggers got a bit soft and were not very smooth when pressing down after a few hundred hours. As the buttons still work, this has not affected gameplay.

WMR- Not enough hours to find faults with controllers. Though as most people have heard, the tracking cuts out, and the controllers have finicky bluetooth settings.

Sensors

Vive- Very likely to break if dropped due to internal moving parts.

RIft- Software patch sometimes needed to fix connection issues. The sensors also must be plugged into computer, which means that smaller laptops must use a USB adapter if want to use the sensors. And some USB adapters, or laptop ports won’t be able to run multiple sensors. And even if you can plug them in you have a very limited distance your sensors can be from the computer, and might need to buy USB 3.0 extensions if you want a big play area.

WMR- Since it is inside out tracking it has a small field of view and often loses tracking.

Cords

Vive- Our first headset connection cord which was never connected to an above head retractable cord holder system got bent and tied on the floor so many times that it started cutting out randomly from all the kinks.

Rift- Our current headset has not been used enough to tell if there are any faults. Cord is also a bit short for large room scale experiences (but is easy to extend if you get the right cables).

WMR- Right after we began using the headset’s, we noticed the it would drop frames, lose tracking and cut to black if the headset side of the cord was ever under any direct tension. Also is a bit short for large room scale experiences (but is easy to extend if you get the right cables).

Link Box (HTC Vive Only)

After about 300 hours of use the link box seemed to stop working. Thus we had to plug Vive hdmi and USB directly into computer and have only power go through box. After doing a few software updates in steam VR, and on Viveport, we tried using the link box again, and it worked fine.

Headstrap

Vive- Our first and second head straps delaminated between the in the back. The velcro also lost most of its holding strength. Then we got the audio headstrap and that helped a lot. But the foam on the back of the audio head strap has been getting loose and quite compressed.

Rift- The velcro for adjustment on the sides lost most of their holding strength from constant use.

WMR- The buttons to adjust the strap are hard to press and it is not all that adjustable due to the stepping mechanism of the strap.

Face Foam (for all devices)

Over time the original foam face pads got sweaty, compressed, and would be constantly misaligned with face due to lack of solid adhesion to headset velcro.

Glued down Velcro on headset holding the foam in place would start peeling after a few hundred hours, and is very hard to reattach properly.

Audio

Vive- Without the audio headstrap it can be hard to put on headphones after the headset. Also you need to do something with the excess dangling audio cord length. With audio headstrap yo don’t need to worry about headphones, but as they are not over ear, but on ear headphones you looks some of the sound isolation, and the earpieces can slip.

Rift- Pre installed headphones are also on ear like Vive, and have same issues. Audio cut out is a common issue for some users (our headset have not had this issue yet).

WMR- Is Really Really hard to plug any audio cord into the headset due to plug location and angle. You also need to manage the extra length of audio cord.


The Computer

Original Computer Configuration

The computer we currently use is a MSI Trident 3 we bought at Fry’s Electronic for $850. It came with an i5–7400 on a H110 Chipset motherboard with 8GB of DDR4 2166 speed (single channel) memory and a Nvidia GTX 1060 3GB. The storage drive was a 1TB HHD.

Computer Upgrades

We very quickly upgraded the OS drive to a SSD to help with storage amount and speed of access to the system. More recently we got 16GB of matched two channel DDR4 ram at 3200 speed (though we are currently using mismatched ram, as CMOS clear is quite difficult currently (the original 8GB stick and one of the new ones)). To help with thermals, we took the GPU shroud off of the GPU.


The Setup

Overall Setup

Our setup is quite unique as it was developed for constant public use, as well as VR development and transportability for events. This means that most parts of it need to be easy to move, and simple to set up in a timely fashion. To hold our sensors steady we use a 10’x10’ pop up canopy tent. And the computer and monitors are house in a rolling AV cart.

Gaming Setup Ware

Green screen- Our green screen has gotten ripped a couple times where we attached them to our setup. Then when they were taken down once someone thought it was sewing fabric and moved it to our spaces sewing area where it was used to make a custom shirt for an Octopus.

Floor tiles- We have green foam floor tiles, these are both for allowing more green screen area, and to protect people from falling as hard. These have gotten quite dirty and Need a lint floor roller to clean.

Current Improvements

Protection mesh- To keep people from possibly running out the window behind our VR setup we have put a fishing net mesh across that side of the pop up tent.

Monitor arm- We recently put our lower monitor onto a monitor arm which helped a number of people do that we have a place for their computer to go.

Future Improvements

Our current setup works well, but there are a number of problems and inefficiencies. Most of these fall into one of three sections: safety, ware reduction, or usability.

Custom Protection Mesh (Safety)

Do you have a VR setup near a window, if so you might be worried that you or a friend might accidentally run out of it. We currently do and currently use a massive fishing net as a barrier on that side of the pop up, the current problem is the type off net it is is not very forgiving in terms of stretchiness and it is somewhat sharp feeling.

I plan on trying to find a manufacturer that can produce extremely large silicon fishing nets which are not as sharp, and can be made to be a bit stretchier.

Custom Retractable Cable Dropdowns (Safety)

A number of companies online sell retractable cable management dropdown’s. These fully get rid of the tripping problem and the cord kinking problem. The problem is these are just slightly modified ID badge reels, they were not designed for VR’s use case of constant movement, and much heavier forces. This causes a new problem, as these cables don’t have enough force to retract the cable to the ceiling, thus you get the cord tied around your neck, or get hit in the face constantly by the cord.

To combat this issue I am designing custom variable tension spring assisted cord pulls

Link Box Housing (Ware Reduction)

If you want to get the most space for a Vive you need to move the link box to the center of your play area (above the player), and use long USB 3.0, HDMI extension, and power cable to connect the link box to the computer.

Computer Cooling (Ware Reduction)

VR will pin all aspects of a computer if you push it. Thus a 230 watt setup will produce 230 watts of heat, which will heat up the area or room quite fast. And since the computer is in a closed box with very little airflow, it can heat up quite fast.

To combat this we have been planning to add a number of fans to the setup, and cut holes for air to get in.

Green Screen (Usability)

If you want to have mixed reality recordings of your gameplay, you need a chroma key backdrop and floor. Most people I know choose green screens over blue screens as cameras have an easier time keying it out. We are planning to have our single green screen slide along the back and left sides of the VR booth, by having a loop running along the top that slides along our rigging rods, and a slit in the middle for the 90° bend. And green magnets at the bottom to hold it down.

Custom Rigging (Usability)

To hold up our protection mesh and the green screens we need sum custom bracket to attach our 10’ wooden dowels to the pop up tent. The dowels are what the green screens and protection mesh attach to at the top off the tent.

Custom Wall Mounts (Usability)

Me and a number of other Noisebridge game devs go to many conventions and it is always interesting seeing how people set up their sensors for their booth, of event. I have seen sensors mounted to walls with tape, on top of really expensive tripods, camera pipe clamp attached to objects in space, and even velcro command strips.

Due to the issues I see most setups have, I have designed some low cost reusable, and movable custom wall mounts that use a pipe clamp attached to a PVC handle on a wooden board with velcro command strips on the back.

Computer Switcher (Usability)

As our computer is meant to be used for development, we need to be able to switch which computer is being connected to the Vive. So we are creating a HDMI and USB switcher system to switch the input to the Vive (and Rift in the future if possible). There will be a spot on the cart specifically to plug a laptop in to the cart and have it use the Vive.

If your setup is not for an unsupervised public setup you can probably forgo this.


Thank You

Hopefully if you are building a VR setup, you find this information useful.

Original Publish date to SVGN.io

Ryan Sternlicht

03/18/19

Silicon Valley Global News SVGN.io

Silicon Valley Global News: Stories, Research, Advanced Concepts RE: Virtual Reality, AR, WebXR, AI Semantic Segmentation on 3D volumetric data, Medical Imaging, Neuroscience, Brain Machine Interfaces, Blockchain, Cryptocurrency, Drones, Light Field Video, Homomorphic Encryption.

Ryan Sternlicht

Written by

Silicon Valley Global News SVGN.io

Silicon Valley Global News: Stories, Research, Advanced Concepts RE: Virtual Reality, AR, WebXR, AI Semantic Segmentation on 3D volumetric data, Medical Imaging, Neuroscience, Brain Machine Interfaces, Blockchain, Cryptocurrency, Drones, Light Field Video, Homomorphic Encryption.

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